The differentiation of cortical interneurons is controlled by environmental factors. Here, we describe the role of activity and neurotrophins in regulating parvalbumin (PARV) expression using organotypic cultures (OTC) of rat visual cortex as model system. In OTC, PARV expression was dramatically delayed. The organotypic proportion of approximately 6% PARV neurons was not established before 50-70 DIV, whereas in vivo all neurons are present until P20. Thalamic afferents increased cortical PARV mRNA in OTC, but not to the age-matched in vivo level. During the first 10 DIV, BDNF and NT-4 accelerated PARV mRNA expression in a Trk receptor and MEK2 dependent manner. The BDNF action required PI3 kinase signalling. PARV expression required activity. The proportion of neurons which managed to up-regulate PARV was inversely related to the duration of early transient periods of activity deprivation. Long-term activity-deprived OTC completely failed to up-regulate PARV mRNA. Both TrkB ligands failed to promote PARV expression in activity-deprived OTC. However, a few basket and chandelier neurons were observed, suggesting that the development of class-specific morphological features is activity-independent. Once established, PARV expression became resistant to late-onset activity deprivation. In conclusion, PARV expression depended on activity and TrkB ligands which appear to prime the PARV expression already before its developmental onset.